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The news is dominated by sexual assault, but what about the harassment that fuels rape culture?

By Ally Sabatina With the news cycle being what it is—and that being one with a presidential superpredator at its epicenter—it seems every day brings a new not-so-subtle reminder of the United States’ prioritization of cis men. The very least I can do in all of this is write one piece on this day that shifts the focus for cis men to everyone else and rather than talk about the safety of their social positioning, I strive to highlight at least one element of the human experience that allows one to glean that their privileged social position, and their presumed safety, rests squarely on the assumption that no one else can be as safe—or as protected—as them. So when we talk about the ways in which cis men get to swim through life seemingly unmarred by the bulk of their experiences, we have to talk about those they damage in the process. With a news cycle dominated by sexual assault and its resulting trauma, it pays to shift focus to the covert vehicles in which the patriarchy causes harm, including but not limited to targeted harassment, catcalling, gaslighting and their ilk. While I come from the camp that magnitude cannot prove prevalence, solidarity of shared experience is a powerful drug, so if nothing else, I asked a few friends of mine to document the instances in which they felt harassed and/or micro-aggressed outside of what they would usually discern as their trauma.
Related: ROMANCE NOVELS TO READ DURING THE AGE OF #METOO

#MeToo is challenging mainstream society to critically examine long-held assumptions about sexual scripts and femme pleasure.

By Michelle Carroll Lately it feels like it's nearly impossible to go a single day without hearing a viral story of sexual violence. And of course, this is a good thing. Finally the pain and shame that was previously whispered to friends and confidantes is being taken seriously by popular media. The #MeToo movement’s goal is to promote widespread culture change—from abolishing violent sexual scripts accepted by our cultural consciousness to deliberately creating space to talk openly about healthy sex, affirmative consent, and respecting boundaries. In the short term, their work is to make sure that survivors who come forward are not only believed, but supported. However, the engines of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements is the pain and trauma of women, and unfortunately there is nearly an infinite supply of sexual trauma in our communities. https://twitter.com/rachie_claire/status/929082629877624833 But what about the survivors and victims among us who want to read something else? The 24/7 news cycle focused on victimization does not help us feel sexy or safe. Even before #MeToo, dating and sex were fraught with minefields (especially if cisgender men are your jam). Healthy, fulfilling sex was a goal that one worked towards, not the inevitable conclusion of a Friday night at a local bar or dance club. We deserve fun, exciting, hot, steamy, sexy time too! In my experience, the only place to get consistently consensual sex with a diverse array of communicative people is from a romance novel.
Romance Renaissance
It is a truth universally acknowledged that romance novels get a bad rap in popular culture. Literary critics and general readers imagine romance novel readers and writers as sexually repressed, white, suburban moms. But, in reality, romance writers and readers are a diverse group of critical thinkers. Without fanfare, a small legion of intersectional feminist romance novels has burst onto the market, reinvigorating a genre long grown stale by the domination of white, cisgender women authors. The romance novel genre is deceptively large and complex, with specific tropes and rules that challenge authors to realize unique characters within the strict confines of their chosen genre. And of course, every novel must end with a happily ever after for the characters. There are subgenres for all preferences: contemporary romance novels, cowboy romance novels, regency romance novels, historical romance novels, sci-fi romance novels, fantasy romance novels. And there are tropes within each of these subgenres that define how the author will tell the story of falling in love. Some popular examples in the genre are: the “(white) alpha hero” who uses his masculinity and white privilege to control the world around him, including, in some ways, his love interest; the “disguise” trope is when either one or both of the main characters pretends to be something they aren’t; “the fake engagement” trope is when the love interests agree to a fake engagement to circumvent some external problem but ultimately fall in love for real. Although a majority of romance novel subgenres are not predicated on violence against women or the attitudes that lead to violence against marginalized peoples and identities, it’s easy to replicate real world inequalities in romance novels if the author is not fully conscious of these lived realities.
Related: AFROFUTURISM: A BRIEF HISTORY AND FIVE BOOKS TO GET YOU STARTED

What’s becoming clear as crystal is people are realizing just how many men would be behind bars if sexual assault and coercion were treated as the serious crimes they are.

One of the most disturbing things that emerged from the debate around “Grace” and Aziz Ansari’s date was how normalized coercive sexual encounters have been, especially with regard to women’s pleasure and safety. After a year of Trump’s regime, my capacity for shock has been whittled down, but during the Ansari brouhaha I found myself at peak stunned by all the people—and women in particular—who have accepted men’s sexually predatory behavior as a matter of course. Worse, they go to great lengths to defend this misogynistic paradigm. You know you live in a patriarchy when feminism is akin to a swear word. The case is made further when a simple fact like “coercion is not consent” becomes a divisive and controversial statement to both men and women. Color me flabbergasted. That is, until I took a couple steps back to analyze everything that the Ansari situation brought up. For me personally, I had to come to terms with the fact that more than half of my limited sexual encounters had in fact been non-consensual due to coercion or lies. It’s a horrible feeling to look back and realize that things were not what I thought they were. At all. And that I had considered those terrible encounters "simple" bad sex when they were far worse and even criminal encounters. It felt like being violated all over again, and I spent more than a few days sitting with my pain, grieving and acknowledging it, and trying to figure out how to put it all into place. Lili Loofbourow recently wrote in “The female price of male pleasure”: Research shows that 30 percent of women report pain during vaginal sex, 72 percent report pain during anal sex, and 'large proportions' don't tell their partners when sex hurts. … The studies on this are few. A casual survey of forums where people discuss 'bad sex' suggests that men tend to use the term to describe a passive partner or a boring experience. ... But when most women talk about 'bad sex,' they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain. Debby Herbenick, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health, and one of the forces behind the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, confirmed this. 'When it comes to 'good sex,'' she told me, 'women often mean without pain, men often mean they had orgasms.'” Loofbourow’s conclusions about how male sexual pleasure comes at the price of women’s pain would be chilling, except that every woman on this planet has been there at some point or another. Despite the frequency of these systemically entrenched behaviors and experiences, this isn’t something any of us openly talk about. At least until the Aziz Ansari situation.
Related: WHAT AZIZ ANSARI DID WAS COERCION, NOT CONSENT

In attempting to devalue Mo’Nique, we show how little we value Black women — how little we value ourselves.

By Jodi M. Savage Comedian Mo’Nique recently asked viewers to boycott Netflix because they only offered her $500,000 for a comedy special. The Oscar-winning actress pointed out that they had offered Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle $20 million and Amy Schumer $11 million. Mo’Nique claimed that Netflix had offered her such a low amount due to gender and color discrimination. Instead of widespread support, she faced a lot of backlash on social media. People were engaged in the all too familiar sexist, racist, and self-hating tactics of making negative comments about her weight and skin color. Many hurled bombs at her that are frequently used to silence Black women and dismiss our humanity: loud, angry, no class, entitled. Others said she should be humble, prove herself, and just be grateful Netflix was willing to help revive her career. They also accused Mo’Nique of having a “bad attitude,” the classic trope for Black women who do not offer up cupcakes and smiles when criticizing how others treat them. It was the responses from Black people that I found most troubling. Black women were among her harshest critics. Maybe it’s hard to feel sympathy for Mo’Nique because most people can’t relate to an entertainer who wants more than $500,000 — but many of these criticisms also contained an unsettling subtext about who gets to assert worth in the workplace and acceptable ways of asserting one’s worth. To suggest that Mo’Nique should just be “grateful” and accept Netflix’s offer is to disregard her accomplishments, her sense of worth, and her right to demand that she be fairly compensated. It also ignores the very real pay disparities for Black women in and outside of Hollywood. In attempting to devalue Mo’Nique, we show how little we value Black women — how little we value ourselves. Most Black women will never be offered $20 million or $500,000 to do anything. But Black women should care about Mo’Nique’s pay discrimination claims because, in many ways, we are all Mo’Nique. Whether we are actresses, secretaries, corporate executives, nurses, or restaurant workers, we are more likely to earn less than our white or male counterparts. Black women earn 63 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Black women are also the least likely to ask for raises among all demographic groups except Asians. We know how pay disparities play out in the workplace for regular folks: being lowballed in salary negotiations; getting hired and then realizing that people with similar or less responsibilities, experience or job titles earn more; being given additional responsibilities, but no salary increase; and not negotiating for a higher salary or raise.
Related: OCTAVIA SPENCER’S PAY GAP WIN IS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE AGAINST WHITE SUPREMACY

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